Saturday, September 26, 2020

"Wieland Kuijken Live in Rio" - a historic live recording of the Belgian gamba player together with Myrna Herzog (viola da gamba) and Rosana Lanzelotte (harpsichord)

                                                           Photo courtesy Myrna Herzog

Few new recordings we listen to nowadays are of live concerts. Most are studio recordings that have undergone considerable editing. However, with the support of the Belgium-Brazil Cultural Agreement, the ARBI group, the Seminários de Música Pro-Arte and Santa Ursula University, “Wieland Kuijken Live in Rio", a recording made by Eliahu Feldman of a concert performed by three major artists on July 29th 1988 at the Sala Cecília Meirelles, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, is now available to listeners, to be heard on several audio-sharing platforms. The concert features Belgian viola da gamba virtuoso Wieland Kuijken – one of the most influential artists of the 20th century Baroque music scene - together with two younger leading figures of the early music movement in Brazil - Myrna Herzog (viola da gamba) and Rosana Lanzelotte (harpsichord). 

The first two works on the recording are taken from Christopher Simpson’s “The Division-Viol” or “The Art of Playing Ex tempore upon a Ground”, an extended instruction book for the bass viol first published in 1659, a manual comprising detailed guidance on how to compose “divisions” (variations) to a ground. “The Division Viol” is also one of the most valuable surviving sources of information on how the viol should be played. Adding extra layers of interest to his book, Simpson, himself a performer, composer, teacher, writer, numerologist, rhetorician, theoretician and advocate, links the practices of composing and playing to 17th century spiritual concepts that centre around the relationships believed to exist between human existence and harmony and melody. Displaying its variety and richness of ideas, Wieland Kuijken, in his characteristic nonchalance and directness, sets before the listener the music’s mix of restraint and panache, together with its spirit of experimentation. 

In Sonata for viola da gamba & harpsichord No.3 in G minor, BWV 1029 (published 1866/67), a work Italianate in nature, J.S.Bach takes us to the world of the concerto, as Kuijken introduces the opening Vivace with subtle inégal expression. He and Lanzelotte present the movement’s rich flow of motifs, exceptional contrapuntal wealth and rhythmic variety in playing that is fresh, seamless and so rich in melodic interest as to make the listener's choice of which line to focus on quite arbitrary. The artists take time to linger over the eloquent B-flat major Adagio, the viol and right-hand harpsichord parts mostly independent in their agendas, as they weave a movement of great beauty. In the final Allegro, its zestful fugue-like opening theme, shared equally by all three voices and countered by a tender, singing second subject, the listener is drawn into performance that heightens both the expressive range of the viol and the vitality of the harpsichord via Bach’s uniquely elevated musical language, in a performance unmarred by excessive tempi.

Hired as a musician to the royal court of Versailles in 1676, Marin Marais was a master of the viol and one of the leading French composers of music for the instrument. In fact, he was referred to by Hubert Le Blanc in 1740 as the musician who had “founded and firmly established the empire of the viol”.  Marin Marais’ five books of Pièces de viole (1686–1725) are mostly suites with basso continuo. Myrna Herzog joins Kuijken to play five movements of Marin Marais’ Suite in D minor from the Pièces à deux violes, Book 1 (1686). Opening with dark-hued ceremonious richness, the artists draw subtle attention to key notes of the Prélude, then breaking into dancelike joy. Following the Allemande, light of foot, reticent at times and always retaining a serious countenance, the Courante’s somewhat capricious dotted utterances and frequent punctuating rests invite spontaneity, as the courtly hemiola phrase endings humour the listener. In playing displaying the composer's own detailed, written-out  ornamentation, melding the stately with the melancholy, the artists play into the tautness of the numerous seventh chords of the Sarabande, its harmonic tensions and ornamenting making for an emotional listening experience. As to the Gigue, its melodies tripping vigorously above a solid bass, this was taken at a moderate pace, enabling the listener to relate to its profusion of detail. An interesting aspect of the work is the endless alternating of the viol parts between solo and accompaniment.

Indeed, Marin Marais, together with his contemporary Antoine Forqueray, one of the foremost players of the viola da gamba of his time, created a musical language which brought the viola da gamba to the peak of its powers, exploring every means of achieving effects and affects never heard before. Whilst Marin Marais focused largely on the lyrical, Forqueray's music was technically the most challenging to date, splendid in its level of virtuosity which, up to that time, had been the province of the violin. On the recording, Kuijken, as the main soloist, with Herzog and Lnzelotte providing the basso continuo, supporting and enhancing Kuijken's interpretation, perform the Chaconne la Morangis or La Plissay from Suite III in D from Book I of Forqueray’s “Pièces de viole”. The work’s title is possibly a reference to a town to the south of Paris. The performance  presents the myriad of ideas surging from Forqueray’s pen - variations wrought of light- and heavier textures, of noble-, coy- and introspective utterances, whimsical and plangent, to be contrasted with moments of intensity in technically complex and intricate variations. All based on one small ostinato phrase, the variations, displaying some charming dialogue here and there, are graceful and noble, in keeping with the sophisticated musical language for dance and entertainment as provided by the “musicien ordinaire”  of the court of Louis XIV.

François Couperin’s “Pièces de viole avec la basse chifrée” (Pieces for viol with figured bass) were published in 1728.  The two suites of this collection give the melodic role to the viola da gamba, with another bass viol or harpsichord realizing the figured bass. At the historic Rio de Janeiro concert, all three artists join to perform the Sarabande grave from Couperin’s Suite No.1 in E minor, the second bass viol collaborating with the harpsichord to form a solid figured bass line, here, offering just a touch of conversation between the bowed instruments and some generous harpsichord spreads. Emerging with aristocratic, stately eloquence and propitious ornamenting, as each phrase presented its specific meaning and direction, the result was a performance of profound expressivity and poetic musicianship, illuminating the true viola da gamba sound world - delicate, wispy in resonance, somewhat nasal and often melancholy - that which delighted royalty and nobility throughout the 17th- and on into the 18th century. 

Wieland Kuijken (b.1938) is widely regarded as one of the most influential pioneers of the 20th-century revival of the viola da gamba and early ‘cello. From 1959 to 1972 he performed with the Alarius Ensemble, a group devoted to performance of French Baroque music. Soon thereafter, the name "Kuijken" became synonymous with stylistically accurate performance of Baroque music, also owing to the concerts Wieland played with his brothers Sigiswald (violin) and Barthold (flute) - the Kuijken Early Music Group. Specializing in the bass viol, Wieland Kuijken has performed and recorded much repertoire as both continuo player and soloist. His recordings of Bach, Marin Marais and Forqueray have won him critical acclaim, with his repertoire including music by composers as late as Mozart and Boccherini. Wieland Kuijken has taught at the conservatories of Antwerp, Brussels, and The Hague, and has been a featured performer at early music festivals. Artists with whom he has performed include Alfred Deller, Frans Brüggen, Jordi Savall, and Gustav Leonhardt.

Considered one of Brazil’s finest harpsichordists, Rosana Lanzelotte is a graduate of the Royal Conservatory of The Hague (Holland). She has played in major concert venues throughout Brazil, as well as in Europe, including recitals at the Wigmore Hall (London), Salle Gaveau (Paris) and Carnegie Hall (NY). She has released six solo CDs. “Nazareth and The Brazilian Harpsichord”, devoted to Brazilian music of the 20th century, has received high acclaim. She has recorded the first harpsichord version of Haydn’s “The Seven Last Words” and Sonatas of Portuguese composer Pedro Antonio Avondano. Rosana Lanzelotte’s extensive research on Sigismund Neukomm, leading to a disc recorded with Ricardo Kanji, was nominated for the 2009 Latin Grammy and awarded the Bravo Prize. Her biographical essay “Sigismund Neukomm: my trip to Brazil”, throws light on the period the composer spent in Brazil. In 2006, Lanzelotte was awarded the Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres by the French government.

Born in Rio de Janeiro, Brazilian-Israeli viola da gamba performer, conductor and researcher Myrna Herzog studied the ‘cello with Iberê Gomes Grosso, viola da gamba with Judith Davidoff and Wieland Kuijken, and was mentored in conducting by Doron Salomon.  Her articles appear in reputed journals, books and in The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians. In 1983, she founded the first South American Baroque Orchestra (Academia Antiqua Pro-Arte), which she conducted until emigrating to Israel in 1992, where she continues to be a leading figure on the early music scene, having produced the first generation of Israeli viol players. In 1998 Herzog founded Ensemble PHOENIX, a group performing on early instruments, which she still directs. As viola da gamba soloist, she has performed in 25 countries. Herzog took part in the Israeli premiere of Bach's Passions with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra. As a conductor, she has staged operas and oratorios. She has taught workshops in Brazil and at the Royal Academy of Music, London.

Referring to "Wieland Kuijken Live in Rio", Dr. Myrna Herzog explains that it was an impromptu recording, “just a souvenir” and that “we never dreamt of having this issued”.  As a result, there exist some imbalances which jazz pianist and mastering expert David Feldman has managed to minimize. He has done an outstanding job in restoring the sound, making this fascinating recording available to listeners worldwide.

Monday, September 21, 2020

Israel Festival 2020 - "Salzburg in Ein Kerem", Mozart works for two and three pianos


 Dror and Shir Semmel. Photo: Dan Porges

The “Salzburg in Ein Kerem” series, taking place in September 2020 at the Eden-Tamir Music Center, Jerusalem, was a part of the 2020 Israel Festival. The Ein Kerem concerts were held in memory of pianist, composer, teacher, and lecturer Prof. Alexander Tamir who, together with pianist Bracha Eden, founded the Eden-Tamir Music Center in 1968, the venue remaining a beehive of musical activity in the picturesque Ein Kerem neighborhood. The Israel Festival and the Eden-Tamir Center were honoured to celebrate Tamir’s spirit and legacy with “Salzburg in Ein Kerem” - four concerts featuring compositions by W.A.Mozart and his contemporaries, performed by Ensemble Millennium, Assaf Sommer, the Toscanini Quartet with Jonathan Hadas, Eyal Kless, Ron Regev, Ron Trachtman and the Jerusalem Piano Duo (Shir Semmel, Dror Semmel). The importance of the works performed at these concerts is that they formed a pivotal part of Alexander Tamir’s life and career. This writer attended the concert on September 12th, a program of Mozart works featuring two- and three pianos with string quartet.


The arrangement we heard of Mozart’s K.365 Concerto in E-flat major for two pianos and string quartet was made by Dror Semmel, who now directs the Eden-Tamir Music Center. Joining him in the performance was pianist Shir Semmel and members of the Millennium Ensemble -  violinists Yevgenia Pikorsky and Asaf Maoz, Dima Ratush-viola and Felix Nemirovsky-’cello. Although the music that Mozart wrote for more than one pianist was usually designed to be played by him and some wealthy patron or outstanding pupil, it was probably inevitable that he would compose a double concerto  expressly to be performed together with his sister Nannerl (Maria Anna). So it was that the  E-flat major concerto, written in the late 1770s, was intended for the Mozart sibling duo, now grown up and no longer going on the road. The piano parts  are equally assigned, resulting in the fact that there is, in effect, no first- and  second solo role, demonstrating that Nannerl must have been every bit as virtuosic a pianist as her brother. The work was also performed by a sibling duo at the Ein Kerem concert, Shir and Dror Semmel, who shared the dialogue between them in countless different ways, engaging in its fleeting scales, exuberant Alberti bass lines and sparkling trills. There was clear concensus between the pianists, subtlety of expression and crystal-clear fingerwork, their use of the sustaining pedal discreet. Moving into new keys, they took the opportunity to create new colour. Their reading of the slow movement was noble and stately, personal and communicative, with Mozart’s enigmatic  use of “wrong” (dissonant) notes  in exposed piano passages never failing to take the listener by surprise!


In 1773, the Lodrons and the Mozarts became neighbors when the Mozarts moved into the famous Dancing-Master’s House, Salzburg, resulting in many happy shared musical events. Mozart’s Concerto in F major for three pianos K.242, “Lodron” is almost the signature work for the Eden-Tamir Center and not just due to the fact that the hall boasts three fine pianos. In 1776, Mozart dedicated his seventh piano concerto to “Her Excellency, Her Ladyship, the Countess Lodron … and her daughters, their Ladyships the Countesses Aloysia and Giuseppa.” Each of the three piano roles differs in its technical demands to suit the varying abilities of each of the players, with the first part moderately difficult, attesting to the Countess’s maternal exemplarity - an indication of the perfect woman in late 18th-century ideology. The second part affirms Aloysia’s skill, with the third part being simpler to be played by Giuseppa, the youngest daughter. (In 1780, Mozart himself  played this concerto  in Salzburg, but rearranged  for two pianos. It is thought that the original second performer of this version was Mozart’s sister.)  Mozart’s score calls for two oboes, two horns, strings; we heard J. Kowalewski’s setting of it for three pianos and strings at the  Ein Kerem concert. For the solo roles, Shir and Dror Semmel were joined by Ron Trachtman. The three pianists communicated the work’s sense of well-being via  phrases emerging in streamlined seamlessness, this being no coincidence. The 20-year-old Mozart’s sense of jocularity is present in the fact that the musical line is often divided between the three players quite arbitrarily: one piano continues what another has started and the third will conclude. The listener may be unaware of  this practice, however, with only the pianists themselves knowing what Mozart is up to! The work’s lighthearted nature has garnered it some derogatory commentary, with Alfred Einstein even suggesting we should “not concern ourselves further with the purely galant Concerto for Three Pianos”. Per contra, the Semmels, Trachtman and the Millennium players created a performance that was totally charming, delicate, pleasantly poetic and entertaining, giving expression to the core of close teamwork at hand and to the composer’s intentions of making his three lady students shine in the presence of their guests.


The concert concluded with Michael Zartsekel’s setting for three pianos of the first movement of Mozart’s Symphony No.40 in G minor. One of the composer’s three last symphonies, it was written in the summer of 1788. Mozart, burdened by financial worries, his wife’s illness and the lack of success of “Don Giovanni” at the Vienna Opera, was, on the other hand, free of the constraints of writing under commission. He  was able to be freely innovative, producing a work of unique originality and intensity. Despite the lack of orchestral timbres, the artists performing at the Eden-Tamir Center enlisted diverse pianistic timbres and techniques to colour the scene. This worked well. The pianists engaged in articulate layering, performing with freshness and energy and avoiding banal sentimentality, then to take the listener into more mysterious regions of the soul in the movement’s development section. Interestingly, Einstein had referred to Symphony No.40 as a “fatalistic piece of chamber music.” 


The concert was an uplifting experience for both the audience at the Eden-Tamir Music Center and for those people viewing the concert on live streaming. It seems the “Mozart effect” has been dismissed but there is no ignoring the joy generated by Mozart’s music, with its sparkle of good cheer, exquisite melodic shaping and its ideal combination of lyricism and Classical restraint. 


Sunday, September 6, 2020

"Baroque Avant-Garde" - members of the Carmel Quartet and friends in live streaming from the Jerusalem Music Centre

“Baroque Avant-Garde” performed by members of the Carmel Quartet? A somewhat puzzling state of affairs for those of us who attend the Carmel Quartet’s concerts...programs of Classical and Romantic works, with occasional forays into works of the early 20th century. For the line-up of this program, however, the ensemble included major Israeli Baroque players making use of gut strings and Baroque bows. Joining violinists Rachel Ringelstein, Tali Goldberg and ‘cellist Tami Waterman for the live-streaming concert on September 2nd 2020 were guest artists Ophira Zakai (theorbo) and harpsichordist/conductor Yizhar Karshon. (Carmel Quartet director and violist Dr. Yoel Greenberg did not take part in this concert.) Offering explanations in English and introducing each work, Yizhar Karshon was assisted by members of the quartet.

To set the scene for the evening’s program, Karshon mentioned new steps of the progress in the fields of mathematics, astronomy, medicine, philosophy and logic taking place in Europe in the Age of Enlightenment and how these developments affected the arts. Baroque composers were now placing more emphasis on texts, experimenting with expressive means and addressing the drama playing out between characters. Karshon advised those attending the concert to forget about listening analytically and just to follow how one emotion of the music leads to another.

Offering four works of Italian composers, the program opened with Marco Uccellini’s Aria quinta sopra la Bergamasca for 2 violins and continuo from the early Baroque Italian composer’s 1642 “Sonate, arie et correnti” Op.3. In this lively rustic dance, set over a simple repeating bass pattern, there is much virtuosic display in the violin parts as was fashionable in the 17th century. This music should be heard more frequently and not only because the prolific Uccellini was the first to publish music specifically for the violin. Another ostinato-based work, issued in by the gentle sounds of the theorbo (Ophira Zakai) was Tarquinio Merula’s multi-layered Ciaconna, with Ringelstein and Goldberg totally like-minded in their concept of the violin roles. Antonio Vivaldi’s 12th and last Op.1 trio sonata is actuality, a set of variations on the “La folia,” theme, a well-used melody and repeating harmonic progression dating back to roughly the late 15th century, ‘folly’ or ‘madness’ in Italian referring to the frenzied way peasants twirled to the music. Similar to Corelli’s variations on the theme, especially in the choice of virtuosic figurations, Vivaldi takes advantage of the extra violin to engage in exciting imitative play. Opening with a Sarabande-type rhythm, twenty variations follow, to sign out with a small coda, the work offering a kaleidoscope of contrasting moods and textures, imitation and florid figures. As of Variation XVII, the music gradually builds in momentum to culminate in the unrelenting energy of the final two variations. Ringelstein, Goldberg and Waterman took on Vivaldi’s virtuosic demands with pizzazz, also to implore and appeal with the plangent utterances of Italian opera arias in moments of cantabile expressiveness. Dario Castello, the leader of a company of wind players categorized his music, with its new and uncompromising style, as ‘In Stil Moderno’ (modern style). In performance that was vital, spontaneous and playful, the instrumentalists here gave life and expression to the music’s typically Italian Baroque alternations of tempo- and mood contrasts, as it swung from exciting, dramatic tutti to pensive moments and back again. In addition to brilliant violin playing, we heard fine soloing on the part of ‘cellist Tami Waterman. Avant-garde? Yes, definitely! Indeed, Castello’s art is imbued with the ideals of breaking rules and pushing boundaries.

When talking of daring and emotion in music, the works of C.P.E.Bach (Johann Sebastian’s fifth and second surviving son), with their volatility of tone and temper, come across today as avant-garde as they must have sounded to listeners in the composer’s time. Known for his trailblazing contribution to the style of "Empfindsamkeit" (sensitivity), as influenced by the Age of Enlightenment, this style was marked by eccentric, suddenly contrasting moods and arching, lyrical lines of melody. To achieve this, Emanuel Bach revolutionized principles of form, harmony and rhythm. The Trio Sonata in G minor “Sanguineus und Melancholicus” (1759) is a rarity, even in this unconventional composer's output, in that it is a quasi-programmatic work. It presents a dialogue between one sanguine character (1st violin) and another, who is melancholic (2nd violin). In their representation of the two characters, Ringelstein and Goldberg, expounding the traits of each, were convincing and theatrical in their playing out of the meeting of the starkly contrasting personalities, expressed in music brimming with sudden harmonic changes, enigmatic silences, melodic fragmentation and abrupt rhythmic displacements. This is indeed an extraordinary concert piece! Leaving no room for doubt as to his artistic approach, Carl Philipp Emanuel wrote: "I believe that music should touch the heart first and foremost. Real music has a freedom that eliminates anything slavish or machine-like. One has to play from the soul, not like a performing bird."

Concluding a concert of fine music-making and seamless teamwork, the artists performed Johann Sebastian Bach's Harpsichord Concerto in D minor, BWV 1052. A work with an interesting, hybrid genealogy, it contains repurposed material from two of Bach's cantatas and may have originally been written as a violin concerto. With the Carmel ensemble smaller than most that perform this work, the artists struck fine timbral balance, with all lines emerging articulate and expressive and the theorbo (Zakai) adding elegance, subtlety and textures to the ensemble sound. Their playing was commanding and polished, neither dry nor over-sentimental, their reading of the concerto devoid of any exaggeration or one-upmanship as they presented the contrasts of character of each of the minor-hued movements. As to Karshon’s treatment of the harpsichord part, his playing exuded ease and quiet confidence as he engaged  Bach’s virtuosic writing to mirror the work’s meaning, weaving through it a web of exquisite beauty till, in the final movement, he guided the listener through  Bach’s extravagant keyboard cadenza, temporarily addressing a major key before a final, enthralling return to D minor. Adding to the audience’s enjoyment was the very fine camera work that offered many glimpses of Karshon’s fingerwork on the two-manual harpsichord keyboard, his own harpsichord - a magnificent Flemish instrument based on a Ruckers model, built by Dutch instrument builder Titus Crijnen.